(Note: This blog post was prepared and posted from Alsace, France, on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s death, September 4, 1965.)
On September 3, 2015, Trina and I biked for about 30 miles in Alsace, France, the eastern province, sandwiched between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River, a place filled with vineyards, and medieval/renaissance towns of such beauty and charm. Part of this biking tour took us to Kayserberg, the birth town of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, one of the amazing great human beings of the 20th century. We visited his birth home, now a museum dedicated to Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Many of the photos in the gallery above are from this museum. I’ve also put quotations from Schweitzer’s writings below, and then included an article on Schweitzer (though I’m sorry to say, I do not recall the author or publication, so my apologies to whoever wrote this summary article on Schweitzer’s life).
Dr. Albert Schweitzer quotations
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude. The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live. He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything. (Thoughts for Our Times p. 16)
When I look back upon my early days I am stirred by the thought of the number of people whom I have to thank for what they gave me or for that they were to me. At the same time I am haunted by an oppressive consciousness of the little gratitude I really showed them while I was young. How many of them have said farewell to life without my having made clear to them what it meant to me to receive from them so much kindness or so much care! Many a time have I, with a feeling of shame, said quietly to myself over a grave the words which my mouth ought to have spoken to the departed, which he was still in the flesh. For all that, I think I can say with truth that I am not ungrateful, I did occasionally wake up out of that youthful thoughtlessness which accepted as a matter of course all the care and kindness that I experienced from others, and I believe I became sensitive to my duty in this matter just as early as I did to the prevalence of suffering in the world. But down to my twentieth year, and even later still, I did not exert myself sufficiently to express the gratitude which was really in my heart. I valued too low the pleasure felt at receiving real proofs of gratitude. Often, too, shyness prevented me from expressing the gratitude that I really felt. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, pp. 87 f.)
We ought all to make an effort to act on our first thoughts and let our unspoken gratitude find expression. Then there will be more sunshine in the world, and more power to work for what is good. But as concerns ourselves we must all of us take care not to adopt as part of our theory of life all people’s bitter sayings about the ingratitude of the world. A great deal of water is flowing underground which never comes up as a spring. In that thought we may find comfort. But we ourselves must try to be the water which does find its way up; we must become a spring at which men can quench their thirst for gratitude. (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, pp. 88 f.)
The fundamental principle of morality is that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil. The fundamental fact of human awareness is this: “I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live.” A thinking man feels compelled to approach all life with the same reverence he has for his own. What we call love is in its essence reverence for life. The deepest thinking is humble. It is only concerned that the flame of truth which it keeps alive should burn with the strongest and purest heat. It is the fate of every truth to be an object of ridicule when it is first acclaimed. The beginning of all spiritual life of any real value is courageous faith in truth. The result of the voyage does not depend on the speed of the ship, but on whether or not it keeps a true course. Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter – to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way. When I hear a baby’s cry of pain change into a normal cry of hunger, to my ears that is the most beautiful music – and there are those who say I have good ears for music. The morality we have lived by was fragmentary only. We must abandon it in favor of the complete, all-embracing love expressed in “reverence for all life.” By practicing reverence for life we are in a spiritual relationship with the universe; we are in harmony with it. All that happens in world history rests on something spiritual. If the spiritual is strong, it creates world history. If it is weak, it suffers world history. The stronger the reverence for natural life, the stronger grows also that for spiritual life. Ethics alone consists in this, that I experience the necessity of practicing the same reverence for life toward all will-to-live, as toward my own. Search and see if there is not some place where you may invest your humanity. Everyone has his Lambaréné. Start early to instill in your students awareness that they are on this earth to help and serve others; that is as important to pass on to them as knowledge. The most important thing in education is to make young people think for themselves. It is through the idealism of youth that man catches sight of truth, and in that idealism he possesses a wealth which he must never exchange for anything else. Grow into your ideals, so that life can never rob you of them. Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. I decided that I would make my life my argument. Service: Never have this word on your lips, but keep it in your hearts. The interior joy we feel when we have done a good deed, when we feel we have been needed somewhere and have lent a helping hand, is the nourishment the soul requires. Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they even roll a few more upon it. A strength which becomes clearer and stronger through its experience of such obstacles is the only strength that can conquer them.
To the man who is truly ethical all life is sacred, including that which from the human point of view seems lower on the scale. The one essential thing is that we strive to have light in ourselves. When people have light in themselves, it will shine out from them. The highest proof of the Spirit is love. Love is the eternal thing which men can already on earth possess as it really is. To the question whether I am a pessimist or an optimist, I answer that my knowledge is pessimistic, but my willing and hoping are optimistic.
With a little reason and much heart, one can change many things, or move mountains. The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live. Judging by what I have learned about men and women, I am convinced that there is far more in them of idealist will power than ever comes to the surface of the world. The highest honor one can show to a system of thought is to test it ruthlessly with a view to discovering how much truth it contains, just as steel is assayed to try its strength.
Article on Dr. Albert Schweitzer (author, publication unknown)
Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875-September 4, 1965) was born into an Alsatian family which for generations had been devoted to religion, music, and education. His father and maternal grandfather were ministers; both of his grandfathers were talented organists; many of his relatives were persons of scholarly attainments.
Schweitzer entered into his intensive theological studies in 1893 at the University of Strasbourg where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1899, with a dissertation on the religious philosophy of Kant, and received his licentiate in theology in 1900. He began preaching at St. Nicholas Church in Strasbourg in 1899; he served in various high ranking administrative posts from 1901 to 1912 in the Theological College of St.Thomas, the college he had attended at the University of Strasbourg. In 1906 he published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a book on which much of his fame as a theological scholar rests.
Meanwhile he continued with a distinguished musical career initiated at an early age with piano and organ lessons. Only nine when he first performed in his father’s church, he was, from his young manhood to his middle eighties, recognized as a concert organist, internationally known. From his professional engagements he earned funds for his education, particularly his later medical schooling, and for his African hospital. Musicologist as well as performer, Schweitzer wrote a biography of Bach in 1905 in French, published a book on organ building and playing in 1906, and rewrote the Bach book in German in 1908.
Having decided to go to Africa as a medical missionary rather than as a pastor, Schweitzer in 1905 began the study of medicine at the University of Strasbourg. In 1913, having obtained his M.D. degree, he founded his hospital at Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa, but in 1917 he and his wife were sent to a French internment camp as prisoners of war. Released in 1918, Schweitzer spent the next six years in Europe, preaching in his old church, giving lectures and concerts, taking medical courses, writing On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, The Decay and Restoration of Civilization, Civilization and Ethics, and Christianity and the Religions of the World.
Schweitzer returned to Lambaréné in 1924 and except for relatively short periods of time, spent the remainder of his life there. With the funds earned from his own royalties and personal appearance fees and with those donated from all parts of the world, he expanded the hospital to seventy buildings which by the early 1960’s could take care of over 500 patients in residence at any one time.
At Lambaréné, Schweitzer was doctor and surgeon in the hospital, pastor of a congregation, administrator of a village, superintendent of buildings and grounds, writer of scholarly books, commentator on contemporary history, musician, host to countless visitors. The honors he received were numerous, including the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt and honorary doctorates from many universities emphasizing one or another of his achievements. The Nobel Peace Prize for 1952, having been withheld in that year, was given to him on December 10, 1953. With the $33,000 prize money, he started the leprosarium at Lambaréné.
Albert Schweitzer died on September 4, 1965, and was buried at Lambaréné. (Note: I’ve included a photo in the gallery above of his gravemarker in Gabon on the site of his medical center.)